PITTSBURGH -- Looking up from the Bucs' historic offensive pit, Clint Hurdle still sees the physical tools and mental attitude to get it right.
"We've got a number of individuals who have not met expectations we projected going in," Hurdle said prior to Wednesday night's finale of the series against the Oakland A's. "We expect more from our offense."
The losses in the two opening games of the set may have been unprecedented. The Bucs dropped both by a 2-1 score while allowing eight total hits in the starts by Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole.
Going back to 1959, MLB.com research revealed this was the first instance of the Pirates losing consecutive games in which they gave up no more than four runs and no more than eight hits.
Although Hurdle reiterated "I think we all like our team" and that "the guys aren't going to panic," he appeared to take a subtle swipe at some batters' mental approach in clutch situations.
The production has clearly not been there lately -- the Bucs scored six runs during the four-game losing streak they took into Wednesday night's delayed game -- but Hurdle was asked specifically if it had been a matter of bad luck by hitters who still stepped in with the right attitude.
"A lot of times we are getting the focus and preparation -- about half the time -- although not getting the results," Hurdle said slyly, doubtless aware that was actual condemnation. "Sometimes we're not getting either one [preparation or result]."
The Pirates hit a Majors-worst .228 with runners in scoring position, but that is only one example of their situational-hitting shortcomings. For instance, with 12 sacrifice flies through 89 games, the Bucs are also last among the 30 teams.
Cole could head to Minors to stay fresh during break
PITTSBURGH -- A couple of weeks ago, the idea of Gerrit Cole being sent back to the Minors irritated Pirates fans. Now that the exciting right-hander is almost certain to re-visit Indianapolis or even Altoona, those fans can afford a more tolerant stance on the "demotion."
Cole appears to be locked into the Pirates' rotation going forward. However, the Bucs seem set to move on the idea of having him stay on his throwing schedule around the lengthy All-Star Game break.
Cole made his final pre-All-Star break start Tuesday, and his first post-All-Star break start may come as late as July 23. For young pitchers with options, a Minor League detour to fill that 14-day interval is logical.
"We've got five [starting] pitchers, and we'll talk to them later today about how we're going to adjust the schedules," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said early Wednesday afternoon.
Hurdle was well aware that Dan Straily, the young right-hander who had impressively handled the Bucs on Tuesday night, had just been optioned to Sacramento by the A's on the keep-him-pitching agenda.
"Any time you have a young pitcher, you try to find the best way to keep him pitching, so you don't have him sitting for 14 days," said Hurdle, speaking broadly.
The Minor League excursion is not an option for the Pirates' other starters: Veterans A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano; and Jeff Locke, who used up his options during seven Minor League seasons before breaking into All-Star stardom this year.
Iraq veteran to represent Bucs at All-Star week
PITTSBURGH -- Jeffrey Mittman was selected to represent the Pirates as one of 30 winners from a pool of 90 finalists as part of Major League Baseball's and PEOPLE Magazine's "Tribute for Heroes" campaign. The national initiative builds upon both organizations' commitment to honoring veterans and military service members.
The 30 winners will be part of All-Star Week festivities and will be honored during a ceremony before the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field, July 16 on FOX, beginning at 7:30 pm ET.
Mittman, of New Palestine, Ind., was injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2005 while serving as an adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, losing complete vision in his left eye and most in his right. The explosion left him without a nose, lips or teeth. Now working on a second Master's Degree after retiring as a U.S. Army Master Sergeant, Mittman earned a Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars and a handful of other medals during his military tenure.
He often speaks around the country sharing his experiences and is a Communications Specialist for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
A guest panel assisted in the selection process for the 90 finalists, who were then voted on by fans to select the 30 winners. The panel included Peter W. Chiarelli and John M. "Jack" Keane, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, Nick Swisher of the Cleveland Indians, Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants, Jonny Gomes of the Boston Red Sox, Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres and Craig Stammen of the Washington Nationals.
As part of All-Star week in New York, the honorees will attend a private tour of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a VIP reception on the Intrepid aircraft carrier, the All-Star Red Carpet Show Presented by Chevrolet and the Chevrolet Home Run Derby.
First number, last word
88: Innings, in the 12 games prior to Wednesday's, in which the Pirates had either no hits or one hit. The Bucs had more than three hits in only two of the 112 innings in that stretch.
"I guess the positive side is, it'll keep me from trying to get back too early and risk aggravating it. We've got the 15 days, and after that hopefully I'll be back at full strength." --Neil Walker, on the club's decision to place him on the disabled list with the discomfort on his right side.
• Walker was not happy about having to go on the disabled list with his sore right side, but at least he could look on the bright side in having to miss only 10 games while on the 15-day DL because of the four-day All-Star Game break.
Walker anticipates a brief Minor League rehab while the Pirates open second-half play in Cincinnati, and he hopes to rejoin the team for the July 22 opener of a four-game series at Washington.
• Infielder Erich Weiss, the Pirates' 11th-round selection in last month's First-Year Player Draft, has signed his contract and been assigned to Jamestown. The club has come to agreements with 28 of its 41 draftees, including each of the top 20.
• Seven of the Pirates' last eight homers entering Wednesday's game had been solo shots. The exception: Pedro Alvarez's three-run blow July 3 against Philadelphia.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.